Song about lynching, written by Abel Meeropol, a young teacher and activist from the Bronx, using the name Lewis Allan. Possibly inspired by a lynching in Marion, Indiana in 1930, famous for the fotograph that turned it into a mass spectacle. Meeropol first wrote it as a poem, first published as Bitter Fruit in 1937 in his union periodical The New York Teacher. Normally he asked others to write music for his lyrics, this time Abel wanted to do it himself. Bitter Fruit was performed a few times by his wife Anne and by black vocalist Laura Duncan, mostly during left wing meetings. Meeropol walked with his song right into the New York Café Society, probably the only place where it really had an audience, where races mingled freely and where Billie Holiday held the bandstand. At first glance she didn't like the song. One might even asume she didn't understand what it was about. But once she did, she never performed again without ending her show with Strange Fruit. No matter how big the cheers, she wouldn't encore with anything after singing Meeropol's song. As if to underline the importance of the lyrics. According to jazz critic Leonard Feather this was the first significant anti-racist protest in word and music, for New York Post columnist Samuel Grafton this was the Marseillaise of the South and for Atlantic producer Ahmed Ertegun the Billie Holiday recording of Strange Fruit simply marked the real beginning of the civil rights movement. Because her own record company (Vocalion/Columbia) didn't want to interfere with politics, she switched to Milt Gabler's independent Commodore label. Goes to show how much she cared for this song.
Josh White [used to face real resistance while singing it for wrong crowds]
Diana Ross [in film Lady Sings The Blues, Billie Holiday's biography]
Jeff Buckley [Live at Cin-é]
India Arie [in film Lightning In A Bottle]
Freek De Jonge [as Wonderlijk Fruit]
Abel Meeropol had to go to court to obtain royalties for his own composition. When he finally got them he was blacklisted by witch hunting Communist busters, wanting to know if he might have written it under Soviet pressure. Late in the seventies he developed Alzheimer. In the terminal phase, when he didn't even recognized his next of kin, he was still able to sing along any time his song was played.